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Refugees do Have a Place Called Home Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Giang Nguyen, Vietnam Aug 14, 2004
Health , Refugee Rights   Opinions
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This monthly theme is Refugees, and to tell you the truth, when I think of Vietnam, I could see no relevance at first. Refugees have never been a pressing problem to us, at least on the coverage, and the problems involved have never emerged as permanent matter to receive publicity. We, after all, are living in peace now, the economy is performing better since “doi moi” and there is no motive to expatriate oneself. And so, at first, it seemed impossible to write about such an uncommon topic as refugee.

But it is only at first sight, sitting back to spare some thoughts, I suddenly remembered some incident last year, which was reported on TV broadcast, something about some highland minority people in Tay Nguyen who, as the broadcast reported, were lured abroad , got stuck in Cambodia and finally had to trace their way back to Vietnam. This incident received nationwide notice at the time because these people were treated fairly when they returned home and were shot on TV to show their repentance for leaving their home country and putting themselves in a dilemma. The report also mentioned SEARAC, which was cited as a group of Viet abroad, who tried to undermine the Government’s reliability, by publishing some affected information about the treatment and the plight of the so-called displaced people. This incident was a hot discussion for many days and after the fleeing people had settled down; it gradually lost its zeal and sank to hundreds of other events and issues going on and on. In fact, we have forgotten it for a while.

And now, since there is an occasion for it, I can’t help casting my mind back and wondering about Vietnamese refugees, in the past and nowadays, what has become of them and under what pressure must they have left their fatherland to run to a far away place, to live in a completely new environment with strangers who speak a completely different language. The wars have passed and right after the end of them, around 1975, we were told briefly, a wave of refugees from Vietnam fled to America, mostly those who had relations with, and directly worked for the old regime in Saigon before the success of the Vietnam War. It was because they feared punishment from the new Government, we were told so. After that, since the Government has maintained a positive, encouraging policy which bears no grudge to those people, the situation has improved much, and refugee issue, as it is now, grew more and more a matter of little concern.

But that, in a way, is a one-side outlook, the viewpoint from the inside. Lately I accidentally read an account of that event from a completely different point of view, on Reuters, which said “U.S. complains of pressure on Vietnamese refugees”

It struck me as completely different from what I have had no doubt about. It seemed contentious that whether or not, those hill tribe people were forced, despite their will, either in the form of “intimidating”, or threatening or coercing and then luring. And it turned out that this incident received wide publicity because it is rather politics – sensitive.

But, after all, I ponder, what really counts in here. The matter of luring or intimidating people? I think not. Let’s put aside all controversy over who is right and who is wrong, let’s go to the bottom line to see, after all, who are the one to suffer the most. Of course the refugees. Just try to put yourself in a situation, where you are suddenly uprooted from your familiar home, and put in a makeshift situation of a tent, and a future of not knowing where to go and what to do, like these people, how would you feel?

Refugees are human; they do have their home country, the piece of land where they have grown up and the community within which their lives have been formed. And it is my strong belief that unless placed under an extreme situation, these people would never choose to leave behind their memories, their sweet home and the past, they would never choose to cut themselves out of the circle of their countrymen, their compatriots. In Vietnamese, “countrymen” means more than just people born in the same piece of land. “Dong bao” has its origin from the legend of Lac Long Quan and Au Co, the land god and the sea goddess who had 100 children bound in the same package when born. “Dong bao” implies we are all brothers and sisters from the same package. It implies the sacred, inviolable bond among our countrymen. And by the same token, it is inhumane to try to disrupt this connection by trying to bring a group of people abroad; it is nothing improper if efforts are made to bring those people back to live happily within their community. Yet, the judging priority should be given to that highland minority.

Thinking back of the scene of the innocent people, who knew nothing of the controversy going on about them and its wider implications, I can’t help the impression that these people had been wanting nothing but comfort, and they suffered and wished as much as the rest of us this had not happened. Give them a say and they said they only wanted a peaceful, happy life.

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